Green Manolo » Impact Cage Match: Leather vs. Faux Leather

Impact Cage Match: Leather vs. Faux Leather

By Christa

It’s confession time: I live in a vegetarian household, which means not only do I not eat meat, I also don’t wear clothes made out of fur or leather or anything else that was worn by an animal first. Most of the time. We have relaxed rules ’round here – secondhand leather is not a problem. I guess I could do secondhand fur, if I wanted to, but it’s not my thing. Sometimes, though, like-new secondhand this or that is just not available, and I have to go looking for an animal friendly substitute. And when I do, I’m often left wondering whether I am doing the green thing or the animal-friendly thing or both by buying a faux leather satchel or knee-high boots.

As it turns out, as much as I’d like to see leather and faux-leather duke it out in the enviro-ring, it’s not as easy as ‘two textiles enter, one textile leaves’ because faux leather is not just one textile.

Sometimes, faux leather is PVC, which does not biodegrade, leaches toxic nastiness in landfills, and emits dioxins when burned. Phthalates are what make PVC feel more like a leather bag and less like a plumber’s pipe. Lisa Finaldi, a Greenpeace Toxics Campaign Coordinator, has called PVC the most damaging plastic on the planet.

On the other hand, sometimes faux leather is made of polyurethane, which is apparently somewhat more environmentally-friendly to produce – no solvents are required to make it feel soft – and will apparently biodegrade because it’s designed to deteriorate after usage. It’s also hardier, with many PUs leather-tested for durability.

If asked, most people (I think) would say that real leather is always going to be greener than faux leather, but that’s not necessarily the case. To turn a hide into a nice soft material for jackets and bags requires a chemically-laden process that uses heavy metals and cyanide-based sollutions, as well as other unpleasant stuff. Industrial tanning, from what I’ve read, can be exceptionally harmful to the environment and the people who oversee the tanning process.

Then there’s factory farming – the US Environmental Protection Agency has stated that livestock pollution is the most damaging threat to American waterways.

But still, PU is a petroleum product, and there are recycled leather products and leathers that are tanned with enzymes instead of the usual chemicals. Unfortunately, an environmentally-friendly shopping spree will usually require the shopper to make certain trade-offs. If the choice is between leather and faux leather, it depends on the faux leather and it depends on the leather. How often are labels (or store employees) going to fully disclose what it is and where it came from? My guess is that unless you’re shopping somewhere rather high-end, not often.

Do you consider the source of your leather or the composition of your faux leather when buying a pair of shoes or an office chair?

4 Responses to “Impact Cage Match: Leather vs. Faux Leather”

  1. aurumgirl Says:

    Real leather, hands down. It’s there, an animal died to produce it therefore it should be used, not wasted. There is no way that leather processing is half as abusive, poisonous, or destructive as whatever is done to create faux leather; and, if you want to extend the argument to include hides and fur, usually a community of people practising a millennia-old way of life which needs to be preserved produced that material, and they should be respected and paid for their work, not despised by people who dismiss their traditions and knowledge as “barbaric”.

  2. Christa Says:

    That would be true if most leather was still produced on a small scale – but leather is industrialized like everything else these days. So when the animal is alive, you have factory farms (and all the associated issues) and then you have leather production happening on a huge scale with just as many chemicals and human rights abuses as faux leather. Sadly, that includes a lot of higher-end brands htese days, since so much production has moved to China, etc.

    It’s true that you can buy artisan-produced leather (and fur) and leather goods that are made in the same ways things were , but that is definitely not what people are buying the majority of the time. If that’s what you’re buying, that is awesome. But I don’t think that you can use that argument on the large scale.

  3. Selena Says:

    Anyone who thinks that leather production isnt just as damaging and unhealthy as the production of faux leather simply has NOT done their homework!

  4. Azulao Says:

    I have a rule that if the product is absolutely necessary to my well-being, then I am willing to go leather. Shoes — I can’t live with fake uncomfortable shoes on my feet. I buy Danskos and Clarks so it’s not like I’m a fashionista insisting upon toe-candy. I also try to have an emphasis on buying one great pair of shoes rather than three so-so ones.

    But, bags or coats or pants or whatever are not necessary to my well-being because they don’t hurt my body. So I won’t buy leather and I’m not crazy about faux leather either. I go for cloth. I’d probably buy a secondhand leather something, figuring that it already entered the world so I wasn’t doing any *extra* harm, but it would be a harder sell for me.

    If Danskos comes out with canvas Professionals, I’ll snatch ’em up!

Disclaimer: Manolo the Shoeblogger is not Manolo Blahnik
Copyright © 2004-2009; Manolo the Shoeblogger, All Rights Reserved

  • Recent Comments: